To paraphrase a famous quote, it takes a village to get an ultra runner to the finish line. In preparation for my first 100-mile race, the Rio Del Lago in California, I increased the population of my village.
My base, of course, starts with my family — my wife, Manju, sons Ryan and Kyle, and other relatives who support my crazy running endeavors. During these epic adventures and long training runs, I think of them and summon the strength to keep going.
One of the newest — but incredibly valuable — additions to my village is my coach, David Roche. It’s an honor to be one of his athletes and soak in his training methodology and philosophical outlook. In our four short months together as coach and client, I have not only become a stronger runner, I’ve become a happier one. “Smile every fucking mile,” as he says.
Well, coach, I smiled almost every mile during the 100. But I got through every mile because of your guidance. I finished RDL in 26:06:41, which was in line with my B goal. Overall, I was 101st of 343 starters and 13th in my age group of 47. Not bad for a first-timer at that distance.
My motley crew
There is no doubt in my mind that I did cross the finish line because of the support from my amazing crew and pacers. My friend, Chad Prichard, agreed long ago to pace me at my first 100. He made good on his pledge, not only making the trip from Denver, but recruiting one of his friends, Shellee Bosworth, to be our chief crew person. Additionally, James Reese joined the village only days before, agreeing to pace me.
I connected with James, thanks to Karey Cooper, who I found on the Rio Del Lago Facebook page. But she went well beyond getting me a reliable pacer. Since Karey was volunteering at the Rattlesnake Bar aid station (roughly miles 35.5 and 83.5), she asked if there was anything special I would want. Given that I have Celiac Disease and cannot eat gluten, I requested an egg white omelet on one stop and nut butter on gluten-free tortillas coming back. While they adjusted my order on the return trip, it was amazing to have such great food that I knew I could digest properly. So grateful for the support of Karey and the entire Rattlesnake Bar aid station crew.
There are 17 times when runners pull into aid stations along the RDL course, but crew is only allowed at six stations — Miles 18.5, 23, 35.5, 44.5, 74.5 and 83.5. This meant that I would need a crew to help resupply me and take care of any issues that came up.
At the first aid station where crew was allowed, I quickly resupplied with Honey Stinger products and kept moving. But the second crew stop was a different story. I had developed a hot spot on my right foot, which Chad tended to quickly as I took in some nutrition.
The Squirrel’s Nut Butter salve that he applied, along with a change of Drymax socks, kept the hot spot from being a factor for the remainder of the race. We would repeat the treatment later at Mile 74.5. All in all, my feet survived the 100-mile course, which featured one long stretch of unrelenting rocks that appeared to grow in size on my way back through early Sunday morning.
I emerged from the 100 miles pretty much unscathed. In addition to the minor foot issue, my left hand is scratched up from a tumble I took literally off the trail. Those battle scars will heal, of course, and the soreness from my legs will dissipate in a matter of days.
Volunteers, take a bow
From a mental standpoint this 100-mile race taught me a lot. I pushed my boundaries once again, extending my distance PR from a 100K to a 100-miler. I learned a lot about crewing, thanks to Chad and others. And, overall my appreciation for the ultra community grew.
A hearty thanks to all of the volunteers who made Rio Del Lago an epic day — or 26 hours in my case. You gave your time, greeting myself and other runners with a smile, asking what we needed, and going above and beyond.
Speaking of going above and beyond, I cannot adequately express enough how valuable my crew was to the success of finishing this race. As I told them, I would not have finished without their support. My plan was to get into and out of aid stations as quickly as possible without sacrificing nutrition, necessary care or anything else. My crew had my back — and feet — each time we met up.
James and Chad, who each paced me for roughly 26 miles, were amazing. When I tumbled off the trail, James was there to offer a hand up and water to clean off the wound. I had a band-aid in my UltrAspire vest to protect the wound for the next 40ish miles. Chad had the toughest task since he was the only one of us to run a 100-mile race before. He coordinated all the activities and then paced me the final 26 miles.
That last leg of the race was a death march. I walked probably 90 percent of it. Chad kept pushing, encouraging and talking with me as I trudged on. Each time my Coros beeped, signaling another mile was complete, I glanced at the time and scowled.
But I never quit. I never even thought of quitting. My “why” was strong, stronger than any negative thoughts that dared entered my mind.
It wasn’t just my “why,” however. It was a time to celebrate, as my coach declared. It was a time to show my family, my friends and my supporters who believed in me that I can do hard things. I owed it to them. I owed it to my crew, two of whom hadn’t met me before this weekend, who gave their time to support me.
UltraSignUp.com will show that I finished Rio Del Lago early the morning of Nov. 3, 2019. The fact of the matter really is that my village and I finished RDL.
Thank you to my sponsors
Before I agree to work with a brand I test their product or service to make sure it is something that is beneficial to me. I believe in each of the brands noted below and encourage you to check them out. Feel free to contact me with any questions about any of them.
Thanks to my support network that helped me achieve my 100-mile goal, including:
Coros Global: You want a watch with amazing battery life? Check out the options by Coros Global. My Coros Apex had 23 percent battery life remaining after Rio Del Lago when it was tracking me through the mountains for just over 26 hours. Incredible. I have found Coros watches to be less expensive than other brands and simple to use. I have not had to look up the instructions even once. Check out their website and use code CAP-Howard to receive a free watch band ($30 value) with any watch. You must add both the watch and the band into the cart and apply the code at checkout to redeem the promotion. https://coros.com/index.php
Honey Stinger: I am a big fan of the gluten-free waffles, chews and gels from Honey Stinger. They are easy to digest and eat on the run. I have tried other gels but none worked well with my gut. During Rio Del Lago, I had around six of the waffles, a couple of pouches of chews and a gel, along with aid station food and other nutrition. This was critical especially at one point in the race, where crew was not allowed for a stretch of 30 miles. Not knowing exactly what the aid stations in that segment would have, I loaded up my pockets with Honey Stingers, which powered me through. Check it out, www.HoneyStinger.com.
Squirrel’s Nut Butter: I have been using the anti-chafing salve since I started doing longer races. I developed a hot spot on one of my toes about 25 miles into RDL. Thankfully, I brought my SNB’s Happy Toes salve and a crew member applied it and changed my socks to prevent the issue from worsening. I also applied SNB anti-chafe salve on areas prone to chafing and I did not experience any chafing in those spots. https://squirrelsnutbutter.com
Inside Tracker: For several years, I have had bloodwork analyzed by the experts at Inside Tracker. Not only do they provide analysis of more than three dozen biomarkers, Inside Tracker creates customized recommendations for you. I have used this data and recommendations to improve my once-deficient Vitamin D score. InsideTracker offers a variety of packages on analyzing your blood results and providing personalized recommendations so you can improve your health. Get 15 percent off with my special link. https://www.insidetracker.com/qr/onboarding/RUNSPIRITED/
UltrAspire: I used several UltrAspire products during training, including a vest, hat and water bottle. The Alpha vest suits me well. It comes with two good-sized water bottles that kept me hydrated throughout RDL. In addition to the bottles, there are pockets for keys, nutrition and other necessities. I carried an extra layer, backup headlamp, UltraAspire arm sleeves and other necessities in the back pocket without feeling weighed down or bulky. www.ultraspire.com
Boco Gear: The start of RDL was perfect race conditions, in the low 40s, while the midday temperatures reached into the mid-70s. I used my Boco beanie at the start to keep my lid warm, then switched to my Boco baseball cap to protect my face from the sun. www.bocogear.com
Prevail Botanicals: As I pounded out the mileage during my build-up to RDL, recovery was critically important. I used Prevail’s CBD salves daily to speed my recovery. I prefer the salves to oral options, which I have also tried. Learn more about what makes Prevail a great resource for endurance athletes and safer than NSAIDs. Use code HENRY20 for 20 percent off your order at https://www.prevailbotanicals.com.
Hammer Nutrition: For recovery, I have used Hammer’s Tissue Rejuvenator for years, as well as their amino acid products after long workouts. Tissue Recovery helps promote muscle recovery and repair. Hammer also offers a variety of other products to help you before, during and after workouts and races. During RDL, I took some Tissue Rejuvenator and amino acids to keep me going. Use my code 239185. First-time Hammer Nutrition shoppers get a nice discount off their first order. www.hammernutrition.com