My friends Jimmy & Molly own the company Desert Sky Adventures, a race management company. One of the races they direct is Rio Del Lago 100 mile & 50K in the Sacramento, CA area. The 2010 race took place on September 11 & 12 and I was there as part of the crew to make it all happen.
This race totally deflated me, and I wasn’t even a runner! Just the mental exhaustion that came from this event has beaten me down and lingered for a couple weeks. I’m still feeling the stress from the event.
Going into the weekend I thought it would solidify in my mind whether I really want to do a 100-mile race or really don’t want to do one… it didn’t do either of those things. It still leaves me hovering somewhere in the middle. I want to do an ultramarathon someday… but not sure if I want/need to do the 100-mile distance.
Anyway, back to the race…
Ultrarunners are some of the coolest people ever. I met so many nice people, and that’s one reason that I would want to do ultras… Normal runners are some of the best people in the world, but as an overall whole, the ultrarunners were even cooler.
We got to the race start a few hours before the official race start to set-up the timing equipment. That was waking up at 3 AM or something like that (my mind is still a pile of mush after this whole experience) for the 6 AM race start. We were set-up at a junior high school, the start/finish line. We got everything set-up, we fixed the runners who had lost their timing chips so they had new chips (Yes, some people lost their chip overnight. My only assumption is that for a 100 you have to pack so much stuff together and have so much on your mind, it is easy to overlook some things.) and sent the runners off.
There were vandals out on the trails, they were pulling down the trail markers (both ribbons and glow sticks). This absolutely infuriates me. I don’t care of you think it is wrong for people to be running through the forest and that it is “destroying nature”. We had permits for the race and when you pull things like that, you are endangering human lives because they are depending upon those markers to keep them on track. Thus there were several runners who ended up off-course and had to run extra miles. Fortunately they were all good-natured about it. People were out re-marking sections of the course as fast as could be done, but people were removing those markers just as fast as they were put up.
The 50K finishers started to trickle in a short time later, the first place runner was Leigh Schmitt and he ran the whole 31 miles for that race in 3:52. I am in awe of that time, not only is it 5 miles further than a marathon, but it was over trails. And when he came across the finish line he was smiling, it seemed to not even phase him. Several other runners came across the finish line after him swearing and cursing. I asked a few of them if they were upset with the course and they said that they loved the course, were just more upset with how they had performed. The first female finisher was Keira Henninger, finishing in 5:20 she looked strong as she came into the finish.
Some time later I came to the realization that the school is not only the start/finish line… but it was also an aid station/checkpoint for the 100 mile runners, about mile 67. I wish I had understood the course better and realized this sooner. The trouble is that 100 mile runners had to come back in to the school to get weighed and checked off at that checkpoint, but the timing mats were in place. Yes, there was a way to set-up a race as a loop course where participants had to cross the mats in the middle to be counted, but 1) I didn’t know about that feature beforehand, 2) I didn’t realize that would be a useful feature in this race and 3) I didn’t study the map enough to realize we would face this problem. So a few of us did some last minute scrambling to create a “finish” chute and a checkpoint chute with some signs detailing what each chute was. Problem solved… right?
I went back to my hotel room to sleep for a couple hours. Just a couple hours, yet that is when the trouble started. I seriously doubt I could have prevented this issue if I had been there, but I’m still beating myself up over not being there when things started to change. While I was gone, we had two 100 mile runners accidentally step on the timing mats when they were at the checkpoint. Thus they had “finishing” times that shifted all the standings. This didn’t necessarily change anyone else’s times, but they showed in the standings as some of the top finishers. So I had to wait until they actually finished the race to try to repair their times.
And then the worst of it happened, the stupid program that goes with the timing set-up doesn’t make it easy to alter ANY of the data. So the moment I tried changing their times, other people’s times vanished. One of the times that disappeared was the girl who won 2nd overall female and 1st in her age group. Fortunately I remember her finishing and writing her down, but when I tried to stick her time back in the system, it started to shift other people around. And then there was confusion over who the 2nd and 3rd overall finishers were. The system had them right, but when the question was raised, we switched them and then had to switch them back. But like I said, that stupid program doesn’t make any changes simple and by making those flips, more data got destroyed.
Basically we ended up with a whole bunch of times that were off. And it makes me completely sick because I was “in charge” of the timing. I am 100% positive I couldn’t have done anything different, I did my best. But I am absolutely furious with myself because I was supposed to be the smart “tech girl”. I’ve lost so much sleep over this. I’ve stared at numbers after numbers, poured over the hand-written notes from when runners checked into the various checkpoints along the way. Nothing about it is making the whole picture clear for me. The only thing I can do now is post the corrections submitted by participants to the web site this weekend and try to forgive myself.
Overall the runners seemed happy, even with the technical issues. And now that I’m older (and believe me, I feel A LOT older after that experience) and wiser, next year will be a lot better. It was a huge learning experience for all of us involved and we hope that word will spread about all the good things in the race, people will return and will kick butt on an awesome course. (A course that I hope to actually get a few running miles on in the future!)