Ultra run: Truckee’s D’Onofrio owns Rio Del Lago 100-mile course record
Special to the Sun
Urbane metropolitans in Sacramento and Reno would point to a kids-in-a-candy-store of scintillating nightlife choices, but ultrarunners know better: The really big event is the Rio Del Lago 100-Mile Run that coursed through the American River Canyon and Floodplain from 6 a.m. Saturday (Sept. 18) morning until noon on Sunday.
The race starts at Cavitt School in Granite Bay, follows the shore of Folsom Lake east to the river inlet, climbs infamous Cardiac Hill (where one runner has already died of cardiac arrest) into Auburn; then connects to the Western States Trail, drops down to the American River again to cross at No Hands Bridge and climb up to Cool; then goes around the 7-mile Knickerbocker Trail loop and back down to No Hands, up to Auburn, then back down along the lakeshore to Cavitt School at mile 67.
After Cavitt School comes the final out-and-back, a distance of 33 miles: 10 miles downriver along Folsom and Natomas Lakes to cross the river at Hazel Avenue, and 6 miles up the south bank to Mountain Lion Knoll behind the Natomas Inn at Old Town Folsom; then back down to Hazel and back up to Cavitt School.
The cooler weather on Sept. 18 was bad news to the swimmers and sunbathers along the American River and Folsom and Natomas Lakes. But to the masses of ultrarunners churning up, down and through the American River Canyon that day, it meant fast times, a high finishing rate, and a bit less suffering than is usual for 100 Rio Del Lago miles. Records fell like bowling pins on Saturday night, with top laurels going to a man and woman who are, by conventional standards (as any exercise physiologist will tell you), past their prime.
Mike Sweeney, 50, a harbor pilot who boards big ships off the Golden Gate and guides them safely into and out of ports at Sacramento, Stockton, the Delta and the SF Bay, won the men’s race in 16:52, knocking a huge half-hour off the record set two years ago by Guillermo Medina, a veritable youngster of 27. Interestingly, Medina’s 2002 run took 34 minutes off the previous record, held by none other than Sweeney. So Medina and Sweeney have a history.
The women’s race was won by Kathy D’Onofrio, an immensely talented, 95-pound runner from Truckee. Back in her early 20s, Kathy won the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in 1986 and set a new course record there in 1988.
Last Saturday, having recently turned 40, she was having her first good 100-mile run in years and cruised to victory in 20:17 hours, knocking over two and a half hours off the previous women’s record. She place fourth overall.
About six miles later, just after leaving the Hazel Bluff aid station with about 10 miles remaining, Sweeney met D’Onofrio on her way out, with 23 miles left to go, running alone and leading the women’s race by many miles. D’Onofrio etched her name into the record book at 1:17 a.m.
Thanks to the cooler weather, 67 percent of the starting runners finished, the last one at 11:40 a.m. Sunday morning in a gentle drizzle.
Rio Del Lago is an extraordinarily well-thought-out 100-mile run. The really tough sections of the trail through the canyon wildlands, where a rescue would be difficult, all come during the first 65 miles. The night run, where people might be falling down from exhaustion, is fairly easy terrain with aid stations every three to four miles; and close to roads, streets and a bike path that are ambulance-accessible.
Rio Del Lago nights are also beautiful, winding through the trees along the river-bottoms and over the oak-studded bluffs along Natomas and Folsom Lakes and the American River, with the lights of the city, moon and stars reflected in the water. Year after year, Rio Del Lago turns out a wonderful, magical experience, where suffering is readily available, but frequently optional.
[Gordy Ainsleigh, a runner/chiropractor from the Auburn area, is the founder of the Western States and of the sport of ultradistance trail running. Ainsleigh paced both winners of the Rio Del Lago to the finish.
For more information on the Rio Del Lago 100-Mile Run, visit
For 2004 results, visit http://www.ultrarunner.net/riodellagoresults04.html.%5D