Rio Del Lago 100 Race Report – Tammy Kovaluk

Photo: Faccino photography

Race: Rio Del Lago 100 mile

Runner: Tammy Kovaluk

Race Date: 11/06/2021

Location: Folsom, California

Results: 25:23, 20th overall female and 83rd overall runner

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. The fellow racers! I met and made a couple of new friends on the course. Both veteran 100 miler racers, one who has done my goal of ~23hrs at RDL. We ran off and on together for most of the race. My new friend, Jeff, decided to make a pact of sticking together at the end, when both of us were not having a great day. Just very genuinely nice, gritty people.
  2. The volunteers were amazing! Super nice, organized, really caring.
  3. Cardiac Hill! It sounds scary but it isn’t. Mostly a paved, moderate climb of 800ft or so over 3 miles. Reaching the top of that at mile 45.5, is a very energetic aid station and is where many racers have special goodies! You can get into a great rhythm here and just tick tock away.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

  1. Race location. This is certainly a personal choice. I love nature and enjoy quieter areas (reside in Bend, Oregon and that is even too busy for me now). So having trails right in suburbia without a lot of quiet nature and beauty along with a very busy area, isn’t my favorite. Sections of the course are quieter later on in the race at mile 60ish on.
  2. Aid station fuel. I am glad I brought much of my own nutrition but did not, in hindsight, bring enough. Again, personal. I personally can’t do Gu, and almost most of the aid was Gu products. Also, tend to well on fruit but they did not have any (only banana). And unfortunately the broth almost made me throw up. (In other events, ie Hawaii Ironman, broth saved me. But here, it was just so thick). I have done shorter ultras that seemed to have more of the things I like. But this would not deter my doing the race again at all, I would just bring more of the things that work for me 🙂

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

Hmmm can’t think of anything?

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

  • Staying relaxed! I did this part well, ran super relaxed and chill because I was scared the whole time of bonking, and know that easy running leads to tougher running later on. Also teamed up with some fellow 100 milers, who were veteran racers, and we ran together mostly until the aid station at mile 45. Met some really cool adventurous, humble people!
  • Nutrition improved from my training race. I was able to stave off stomach issues for ~65 miles. In a 100km backyard training race for RDL, the nausea hit me by mile 45. So adding ginger to my mix helped a lot. Until we didn’t have any, and everything went to s**t 🙂 But at least I know it helped and am going in the right direction.
  • What I did well was grinding through, despite things going south especially the last 30 miles. By mile 70, I was very nauseated, when the broth really threw me over the edge.
  • Also had an ongoing hip issue, likely a mild hip flexor strain, leading up and through the race. So I suffered with mild pain pretty much from a few miles in, to progressing to severe pain. The last 10 miles or so, that leg was pretty much like a peg! The IT band, quad was angry and swollen. But persevered and still finished despite having a tough time for many miles and hours.
  • I am a believer in finishing what you started, (unless sustaining an injury is too severe). The tough races are the ones I learn the most from.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

  • Go out easy and ‘relaxed,’ but not so slow that you get just tired and blah.
  • Practice short steep hills a LOT. Your quads get fried from the 20+ miles on pavement then the “meat grinder” section. The meat grinder wasn’t bad on the way out, but did require a lot of rock hopping. Again, quad killer. The hills on the back side were rocky with steep descents, quad killers.
  • If you have a sensitive stomach, just bring what you need. They tell you that you don’t really even need drop bags, but I would have brought all my nutrition as the aid station fuel mostly did not sit well. You can always take it home.
  • Finally, they make a big deal out of “cardiac hill” and the “meat grinder” sections. I found cardiac hill very easy. Its a gentle mostly paved uphill that is similar to our “Pilot Butte” hill I often do repeats on. The back section on the course is where it is tough! More rocky, steep hills, and that is what you will be hitting in the dark, whether a top finisher or trying to make the cut off time. So be prepared for that.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

  1. The importance of crew! Especially including someone experienced. One of my closest friends accompanied me, but is more of a snowboarder, not a runner. I had notes for him and instructions in drop bags and he did fantastic. After running into issues, he did not know what to do or how to help, and would just ask if I wanted anything (he is too nice). Of course I said no to everything. I kept waiting to feel better but I didn’t. That probably made things worse. The last 15 miles, I hardly even drank a sip of water, just could not stomach it.
  2. Similar with above, your mind might go more than you think! At least mine did. So if possible, have someone who is more stern and tells you what to do, especially if/when you don’t feel like eating or drinking. My friend noticed that the leaders’ crews were not asking, they were telling. This is especially important if things aren’t going right, after hours in the dark. I was honestly surprised at how foggy my mind got, and how “dark” I felt. I have been in other ultra endurance events (example 36hr Ultimate SUCK), my mind was more clear in those. It may have to do with an unsettled stomach, the dark, trudging alone for miles in the woods, and the relentlessness vs a break from running and doing other tasks…anyways don’t trust yourself to be thinking clearly. I think if you don’t have a crew, make yourself big notes instead and just follow them. Just Do, don’t think.
  3. Pacer would definitely help, especially in a race that has so much dark time due to the tie of year. When I finished alongside my new ultra friend and his pacer, I could go a little faster. Part of this was changing my mindset to how much this sucks to focusing on staying on their heels. I felt like a little puppy dog trying to stay with! Part of it was more light, leading me to #4.
  4. Good light! Wow what a difference. His pacer’s whole vest was lit up with lights. Being not a great technical runner, especially in the dark, don’t minimize the difference on having a great light.
  5. If things go south, don’t be afraid to try things if it means eating and drinking at least a little. I’ve learned in some past events this way that have paid off.

Most important Rio Del Lago 100 course specific knowledge to know about the race

  • First 21.5 miles are almost all pavement. Mostly flat, with a new addition this year of a couple miles that included moderately steep climbs. The rest is mostly trail.
  • After the first 21.5 miles, the course proceeds onto rolling hills and then the “meat grinder section,” a mixed section of stairs, rocks, and very short, steep hills for ~3 miles. A moderate paved climb follows of ~800 ft in 3 miles. Afterwards, some runnable trail.
  • On the back lollipop section of the course, be prepared to hit the main hills, most are pretty steep and fairly short. Some are quite rocky, as you climb out of creek beds. You aren’t climbing mountains will be up and down in the foothills a lot before circling back and retracing your steps
Photo: Faccino photography

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Rio del Lago was a very well run and organized race! They had zoom pre race sessions before the event, were extremely well organized with a great team, and race day was very smooth.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

Moderately competitive.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

The hotels still had rooms even close to the race. I originally booked a camping spot at Beal’s point, but changed my mind with the weather getting colder! They have hotel room deals if you book far enough in advance.

Rio Del Lago 100 Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

There were numerous aid stations, definitely enough. Main faire at Aid stations: Gu gels, Gu blocks, Roctane, banana, bars, some candy, potatoes, and probably other stuff that I cannot recall! Night had quesadilla, broth (vegetarian, concentrated) and a variety of other foods depending on the aid station!), coffee

Weather and typical race conditions

~50F in the morning, rising to 60F. It was humid and mostly cloudy, with a light brief rain. At night, it quickly got colder than expected at ~2am, a mist coming in soon after. You can expect anything from rain to moderately hot (like 40s and raining to even low 80s) at Rio Del Lago.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

I would take a variety of clothes for various weather, extra pair of shoes incase you want to start with road shoes (I never did switch mine), if you have special dietary needs.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

Yes! For most of it. Lots of places to see at various checkpoints.

How’s the Swag?

Bueno! Nice coolmax tshirt, jacket, belt buckle! And got some other goodies as well, like samples.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

This one is tough! It is my first 100 miler so am not sure if they vary a lot from other ultra running events. Based on other ultra running events, I would say 8/10.

Tammy Kovaluk is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with Coach Tammy, check out her coaching page.

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