I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Sacramento/Roseville area over the years visiting my Uncle Steve. Steve and I have always been close and every couple of years, we get together for an adventure. For the past several months, we’ve been planning a trip to Yosemite for a rematch with Half Dome. As the date approached, a trip to Yosemite looked unlikely for a variety of reasons but I figured I would still visit Steve and we’d just find something else to do for the weekend, little did I realize it would be crewing for Paige at Rio Del Lago.
After Leadville, Paige and Brian had fresh legs since they had only run 50 miles (sounds kind of hilarious to say, only 50 miles) so they were scheming to utilize their training to springboard into another hundred. They immediately went to work finding a race that wasn’t too far out. After a lot of debate back and forth, I went to Ultrarunning Magazine’s online race calendar and quickly found Rio Del Lago which was taking place in Granite Bay (just outside of Roseville) on the same weekend that I had planned to go to visit Steve. I called Steve to see what he thought about spending our weekend together crewing for Paige – he was on board… of course he was, he’s up for anything. Our next job was to convince Brian that RDL was where he should complete his first hundred – it didn’t take much convincing and soon, entry fees were paid, hotel rooms booked and flights bought – things were really falling into place. Paige’s friend, Gretchen, lives just and hour from the start of the race and quickly reached out to Paige to see if she could help out crewing and/or pacing – absolutely, the more the merrier!
We got into Sacramento on a gorgeous Friday afternoon and promptly found some outdoor seating for lunch. Steve stopped by for a quick hello and we agreed to meet up later for dinner. After lunch, we checked into our hotel and then on to the medical check-in/pre-race meeting. We saw several familiar faces, a lot of new ones and few legendary ones like Gordy Ainsleigh, Ray Sanchez, and Norm and Helen Klien to name a few. With our obligations for the day done, we gave Steve a call to figure out a plan for dinner. We decided on a spot that was convenient for all and got a seat outside – it was completely relaxing and delicious. With a final conversation about the details for race day, we said goodnight, parted ways with Steve and headed back to the hotel.
Race morning started at 4AM for the 5:15AM check-in. The gym was a buzz with energy – excited runners chomping at the bit to get running and probably some nervous energy in there too. Soon they ushered the runners outside the gym for the start of the race, I was having a hard time reconciling the fact that I wasn’t running – don’t get me wrong, I love crewing and pacing but there is nothing that compares to being out there on the trail. The gun went off, one final kiss good-bye and into the dark they ran. We stood there watching as the last of the headlamps disappeared into the forest and then Steve, Kelly and I looked at each other and said, “breakfast?” – it was time.
The first crew accessible aid station (AS) was Rattlesnake Bar at 12+ miles into the race. I didn’t like the name of this one at all but I decided to put my own personal issues aside for the day and we made our way to the AS. We covered some pretty rough roads to get there and I wasn’t sure if Steve’s car was going to make it, it is definitely built for speed and luxury but not off-roading. Luckily, we did make it and just in time to watch the front runners come blasting through. The AS was set back from the trail quite a ways and nearly everyone that came through had a hard time figuring out what was what. The two guys who were manning the AS seemed to be new to the game so I tried to help out where I could until Brian rolled in. He was running a blistering pace and feeling good. We got him topped off and back on the trail. Paige came in shortly thereafter and was all smiles, this would become a theme for the day. We tended to her bottles and she was off again. The highlight at this AS was watching one of the front runners throw a tantrum when she found out that another woman was in front of her – she went from smiling to screaming and pumping her fists in the air saying, “how far ahead of me is she? Jimmy, how many minutes ahead is she?!!” Classy.
The day was starting to get warm and the trail was getting hilly – it was about to get interesting. We next saw our runners at mile 22+ at the Auburn Dam Overlook, which was in Auburn but did not overlook a dam, hmmm? This is where Gretchen joined the crew; immediately, I could tell I liked this girl – she was a ball of positive energy. Our runners came through in good shape and good spirits. The next section would take them over the legendary “No Hands” bridge which is part of the Western States 100 course – Paige was very excited to get to see it and it didn’t disappoint. By the time they rolled into No Hands AS, it was downright hot. We got them in and out of the AS quickly. At some point while we were there, the race leader came back through the other direction – the dude was moving! The next section involved a big climb so we had a little time before expecting them at Cool. Cool was cool and quite HOT! Okay, that isn’t that funny but I couldn’t help myself. The AS was at the fire station in Cool which is a little mountain town. It is just a couple of stores and restaurants but they really rolled out the red carpet and, as crew, we thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality.
This section of the course was a loop that came back to the same AS so we set up “camp” and just hung out for a couple of hours. We got some food, relaxed in the shade, watched people come and go, oh yeah, and got to see our runners twice without having to move. Everyone was feeling the heat and the miles by now, some more than others. We watched as runners struggled to get themselves out of the AS and back on the trail – it sounds strange but this is a big part of what I love about this sport, watching people doing battle with their body, the conditions and most importantly, their mind. And then watching them pick themselves up out of the chair and continue down the trail… and, it only gets more interesting as the race goes on : )
Back at No Hands bridge AS, the wheels were coming off for several runners as we watched them get hauled away in ambulances, puke over the railing, and drop out for various reasons. These are the things you see as a crew that you rarely see as a runner. Thankfully, our runners were fairing much better despite having a little bit of a midday lull. Watching Paige dance across the bridge rocking out to her music, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of joy for my life and love for her – how did I get so lucky? The next stop was mile 45 and put us back at Auburn Dam Overlook, this is where Gretchen was jumping in to pace Paige for the next 20+ miles. It is also where we got to meet Brian’s cousin Rhonda and her partner Dana who had come up from the Bay Area to see Brian in action. Paige wasn’t feeling that great when she got there and was happy to have Gretchen’s company. It was only latter in the night that I found out just how miserable she was actually feeling. Thank you to Gretchen for being there for her. We had a couple of hours before we would see our runners again so we took it as an opportunity to get some food. Kelly, Rhonda, Dana and I went to In and Out while Steve ran home to freshen up and get some warmer clothes for the night. It was great sitting in the air conditioned restaurant slurping on a milkshake while getting to know Rhonda and Dana. After dinner, we said our good-byes and then Kelly and I headed back to Rattlesnake Bar where we met up with Steve. Both Paige and Brian came through happy that the temperatures had cooled and were feeling excited to be past the halfway point of the race with the toughest terrain behind them.
The next couple of AS went by fairly quickly and soon it was time for me to jump in at the Cavitt school to run the last 33+ with Paige. I couldn’t help but think about how tired I was and how I needed to rally if I was going to make it through the night. Crewing is exhausting work, different from running, but exhausting all the same and when you add in pacing duties too, it takes a bit of mental gymnastics to get through it. When you are the runner,you know its going to be tough so you prepare for it but its your day and everything is focused on getting you to the finish line. On the other hand, as a crew, it is all about your runner and getting them to the finish line – its every bit as awesome but a very different experience and one that is easy to underestimate just how draining it is, even with a runner like Paige who isn’t demanding at all. At this point, I would like to thank all those who have crewed and supported me over the years, it is truly appreciated.
We moved through the night, sometimes chatting it up and sometimes in silence. Despite being almost all on trails, this is a very urban race and the second half more than the first. There were several sections which felt spooky at best and downright unsafe at other times. We passed under bridges and through dark parking lots littered with broken bottles and graffiti. It was dark and my imagination was active but in the end, it turned out fine despite bumping into a couple of very drunk people who must have thought they were seeing things as two runners passed them by with headlamps on. My mood wavered throughout the night fighting sleepiness and general fatigue, I did my best to keep it to myself but I’m sure Paige wasn’t completely oblivious to what was going on. Steve and Gretchen were at each AS waiting for us and keeping us moving. During a race, the night is one of my favorite times, it is quiet and it is the period when you have to dig the deepest. I also love coming into an AS in the middle of the night and it is a little oasis of life, light, and comfort. Rio Del Lago was many things but their evening aid stations lacked the experience I love so much with many of them not having lights, warm food or a buzz of energy. One, we actually almost passed by without noticing until an AS volunteer called to us – yeah, that was strange. They had a great volunteers and a huge selection of food but nothing warm and no lights other than their individual headlamps which they turned on as we approached. Back on the trail, my stomach was not feeling great and I was a running zombie. Paige was doing great and I definitely felt like I was sucking her energy as I tried to stay awake **SKUNK** “Stop! There’s a skunk on the trail, right there!” Just ten feet in front of us was a little waddling black and white welcome crew. Fortunately, he was in a good mood and went on about his business without much notice of us. This section of the race was an out-and-back and we were starting to see runners on their return trip. Others had finished already but now we were getting into the next batch of runners and it was good to see a few others out there.
Soon we came upon the turnaround and Paige decided that a short nap would do her wonders. Steve wrapped her up into a blanket he had brought and helped her lay down in the parking lot with her feet up on a chair – she was out. Gretchen went into action taking care of our bottles. I sat down on the curb next to my girl and immediately fell asleep with my head resting on my crossed arms. After fifteen minutes, we were up and gathering our stuff for the return trip. It had worked, that little nap took the edge off and we both felt much better though my stomach was still working through something. Soon after leaving the AS, we saw Brian and Kelly for the first time in quite a while – they were moving good and our hearts leapt! The rest of the night is a bit of a blur but eventually the sun started to make its appearance which revitalized everything. We started to see runners out for their morning run and soon the spookiness of the place began to disappear.
As we got closer to the finish, I was amazed at how much running we were doing still that late in the race and how good Paige looked – she is amazing. We passed along the river, past a huge dam, near the prison, along a gorgeous ravine, and covered many miles of wonderful rolling single-track. With three miles to go, the final AS had a list of runners that they were still expecting (i.e. runners who were still on the course behind us). We asked about runner 76, Brian, and the response was “we aren’t sure, we have a question mark next to his number.” Huh? Last we saw him, he looked good but anything can happen in those last miles and we hoped for the best. As we crossed over the final levy and knew the finish line was only a half mile away, it started to feel less like work and more like accomplishment. Coming into the final stretch, Steve and Gretchen were waiting with camera in hand. Paige finished her third hundred miler in style and I feel so fortunate to have been there for each of them. After doing her medical check-in, Paige found a comfy spot to lay down with her legs elevated. Gretchen said her good-byes and Steve and I watched for Brian and Kelly.
There was still no update on his whereabouts so we weren’t sure when to expect him. Steve was waiting to talk with the race officials to see if we could get some confirmation that he made it through the last AS and just then, he yells to me “here he comes!” I scrambled to get my camera and get to the door just in time to see him finish! Brian Gaines = hundred mile finisher! This day was a long time coming and I felt overwhelmed with happiness for him and Kelly to finally see him reach this elusive goal. Brian is a true ambassador and has inspired many with his love for the sport.
After some pictures and some fluids, Brian found a comfy spot on the lawn to revel in his accomplishment. Paige and I went to the post-race awards so she could get her second place age group award. What a great day and with both our runners having finished, we could now sit back and really soak it in. Congratulations to both Paige and Brian on a most amazing accomplishment! Kelly, I can only imagine how much your loving support meant to Brian on this special day but I know it was a lot. A huge thank you to Steve and Gretchen for their company crewing and their support while pacing. It was great to meet you Gretchen, I look forward to our paths crossing again. Steve, we will get back to Half Dome someday but this was a pretty good adventure too.
Quote of the weekend: Brian, “I didn’t think it was going to be that hard.” In reference to his running 100 miles over mountainous trails. Brian, I love ya man.