Monday, April 26, 2010

Volunteering/pacing/spraining ankle at Rocky Road 100

In January I ran a marathon  put on by Charlie Alewine Racing and loved the low-key, welcoming feel of his races.  He gets to know the runners and truly loves the sport.  CAR has events weekly, including some weekends/holidays where a person can run 2-4 races on consecutive days.  In other words, CAR enables Marathon Maniacs to be even crazier. Since January, he has been including more and more trail runs and I've been longing to race on but injuries or scheduling have gotten in the way.  That was the case for CAR's first 50/100 mile race, the Rocky Road runs; a range of events was offered from the half-marathon distance to the 100 miler.

I longed to do the 50 miler as a training run for SD 100 but my achilles issue made that impossible.  I had prior commitments for Saturday, including a 6 year old's birthday party at Scandia (small amusement park), that prevented my running a shorter race but decided to combine running and volunteering late Saturday evening into Sunday.  Charlie needed a volunteer from 4am-3pm Sunday and I thought it would be a great experience to see that part of a 100 miler; I asked if I could run a loop of the course before my shift and he was very gracious to allow that.  I decided to arrive around 11:30 pm and the night time did not stop by being amazed at the beauty of the Cota de Caza neighborhood, an exclusive "enter through guard house" area in southeastern Orange County.  The area made my jaw drop open and remain that way until I left! 

When I arrived, there was a guy (Troy) at the aid station who had completed 75 miles and was heading out for the technical 5 mile loop; he asked who I was pacing and, when he learned I was looking to get in some miles before my shift, asked if I wanted to run with him.  I jumped at that- my first overnight run and I'd have the opportunity to pace someone!!!  We took off and I was very happy he'd run the loop several times during the day because it was rocky, sandy, easy to lose footing, and overgrown with grass at times (last minute course change meant the RDs did not have time to clean up trail)- very remote and very cool!  The views of nature were incredible and I loved seeing the moonlit hills and vegetation, even just seeing the home with its own golf course made me smile; I planned on returning after my shift to take pics, despite knowing they were lots of snakes that had been spotted during the day.

I warmed quickly and decided to discard my gloves at the aid station after the loop.  My achilles felt good so I asked Troy if he wanted my company for the next 15 miles.  He seemed very happy for that.  He had mentioned having a goal of sub 24 hours and I realized he needed to make up time for that to happen.  I decided to make it my mission to get him in/out of aid stations quickly (he'd told me he lingers) and to push him gradually to pick up pace when needed.

When we headed out for the 7.5 mile (15 mile round trip) trek along the loose, sand-like horse trail, he mentioned there were lots of sandbags along the way due to recent rains.  I was not running with my headlamp on because the moon was so bright; big mistake!  I decided to run slightly ahead or beside him and tried to give him the best part of the path, the small part not blocked by the lines of sandbags.

About a mile out of the main aid station, I landed hard in a small gulley and heard/felt my left ankle snap; the accompanying pain was excruciating but I jogged it off and said I was fine when Troy asked; no way was I going to whine to someone on mile 81 of 100!  I could feel the ankle tightening and anytime Troy needed to walk or pee, I'd take a moment and rub it; I could feel it slightly swelling and it was super tender to the touch.  I kept landing in small gulleys and the pain would shoot to my sole.  But I was determined to help make up time and get him down to 15 min/mile average pace, the slowest pace possible for him to go sub 24; I'd see our chipping away at the 16, high 15 min/mile average pace and knew he'd be close if we could keep pushing.

The course had some rolling hills and I got to gawk at the homes while enjoying conversing about everything from races to work to family and the times of just running silently; it's still crazy to realize how much people can learn about others while running at night.  We hit the turnaround and we both snagged ibuprofen and he fueled up.  On the return, I could tell he was struggling as his run had turned into a shuffle; but the food kicked in and I started to pick up the pace and he followed suit.

I decided to turn on my headlamp to avoid the gulleys and it helped....until we were about 5 or 6 miles from the main aid station when I avoided one obstacle (railroad ties) and then managed to tumble when leaving the horse trail to cross a street; I stumbled off the curb, landed weird on my left ankle and it collapsed, sending me into the pavement.  Pain shot through my body and, as I got up, I worried I would not be able to put any weight on my ankle.  It hurt like hell but I did not want Troy to be concerned; he said we should walk for a bit and I reluctantly did for a few moments before checking my Garmin and realizing we had no time to lose.  My left hand was bloody and the cold air hitting it hurt but the worst was every step when pain would reverberate through my entire body.  I realized I had to make it back and that I wanted back asap so that I could get off my ankle and ice it beyond belief.

We continued running/walking and I made out as though everything was okay; my job was to pace and he was looking stronger by the moment so I did not want anything to mess up his groove.  As we made it to the aid station, he asked the time (I'd kept quiet about time, distance, pace except for the two times he asked) and realized he had 90 minutes to get aid and do the tough 5 mile loop.  I told him it was possible and that he should go for it; even if he did not make sub 24, he'd given up 15 minutes by helping a fellow runner earlier in the race.

Troy, me, Charlie (RD)

I proceeded to assess the damage to my ankle- worse than I expected- and start icing and elevating. I remained at the race, saw the winner, and was stoked to see Troy finish in 24:07, earning him second place!!!.  Seeing how happy he and his friend Gina were with his time, I was so happy I'd paced him; it was an experience unlike any other and I learned so much about myself, ultras, what it takes to finish 100 miles...way more than I can share in a blog!

After one round of caused part of redness

I remained at the main aid station and then went to another one until 2 people remained; seeing how hard those two ladies were working, one of whom had officially DNFed but was still out there to finish the mileage, gave me such an appreciation for the distance, the mindset it takes to finish, and the determination of those ladies.  Jean and Ronnie rock!  All in all, the experience was incredible and badly sprained ankle and all, I would not take it back.  I got in about 20 miles and my achilles held up; I'm stronger and in better shape than I realized.

The house was incredible and it has an orange grove...holy smokes!

More on the ankle to follow...
Til then, hit the trails for me!


  1. Holy crap Rachel...still can't believe you continued to run on that thing.

    Good for you though for the awesome pacing duties. Maybe if SD100 isn't a go, you can still come out and help pace and/or crew. In the meantime, take care of that ankle and do what you need to do to get back to a 100%.

    Seriously though...nice going pacer!

  2. Ouch! That ankle looks painful! And you kept going? You're much stronger than I lady!

    You know, there's one house back there in Coto that has a helipad. The owner (William Lyon) used to fly to work....

  3. I admire you Rachel. You are such a great runner! Despite sprained ankle you continued to pace Troy. Amazing experience. Hope you feel better soon :)
    Big Heart