When most are cutting calories, Riva Muehlbauer is adding calories including: Two cheeseburgers, bags of potato chips, chicken teriyaki, and nutrition bars as she competes.
This is not just any race. Runners often consider the 26.2 marathon the ultimate accomplishment, but for the 40-year old mother of four, the ultra-race of 100 miles is her passion.
The Strawberry Fields Forever in North Bonneville, took place on June 26 and included a 100K, 50K, 10K and the 100 miler. Muehlbauer, of Underwood, broke the 100-mile record in record breaking heat. The heat was a major factor in the day’s race, with a high of nearly 109 degrees on race day, according to Accuweather.
Riva’s first place finish was 19:37:24. A total of seven male and female athletes finished in this category, the youngest being 27 years old. More racers started but either dropped out or did not finish.
This was Riva’s second 100 mile ultra-race, and her seventh ultra-race. She competed in 2020 in the Strawberry Fields race in the 100K, which she also won.
Riva enjoys ultra-racing and the challenge it gives her. The heat was intense in North Bonneville, with little shade, but the loop course allowed familiar faces to encourage the runners as they made their way. Riva said the long race causes a mental “zone” when you are running for so long, and it is refreshing to have company along the way to change the focus.
“There was a boat ramp along the course, so I started submerging in the river — shoes on and everything — halfway through each lap. I’d come out soaking wet, continue running, and everything would be dry again by a couple of miles! I’d grab ice at each aide station and fill my hat and shirt and soak a bandana that I draped over my neck.”
She also takes salt pills by the hour to be sure she doesn’t cramp up during the race and to replenish electrolytes.
She avoids too many food alternatives, such as gels and bars, since the real food helps her perform the best. High quantities of real food during the race including cheeseburgers or chicken terriyaki from the aide station grill, perfect food for the ultra-runner.
Riva explained if she doesn’t eat she gets sick, especially as she approaches the 70-plus mile mark.
Training for Riva consists of 70-100 one mile runs in a week. She aims for back- to-back long runs of 20-25 miles. The weekly schedule allows one rest day. A 13-mile workout is a regular run for the athlete.
During the North Bonneville race, there was relief as the sun went down and the runners had a break from the heat.
The water submerging stopped but the icing continued as temperatures remained in the 80s. Riva explained, “There’s a comforting silence running in the dark during an ultra. For me, my mind kind of relaxes, and I just focus on the headlamp light in front of me. It’s zone-out time. Left foot, right foot. Drink. Repeat.”
Riva was able to run with another experienced ultra-runner around the 75 mile and was appreciative of the company. It was at the 94-mile when she rested at the aid station that she knew she had it in her to finish the race. She explained everything was hurting, but she felt excited to hit the trail and finish. Her pace for the last 10K of the 100 miles was what she described as a decent ultra-pace, running about 10-11 minute miles.
The final stretch of the race was at sunrise, under a full moon, finishing at 4:30 a.m.
Riva was overwhelmed to see the race director, friends and her family at the finish line. She said she doesn’t normally cry at races, but this one was more emotional.
“I was really very nervous going into this race with the extreme heat, and I was just so glad to have finished,” she said.
In addition to the 100 miler, in the past Riva has competed in 50 mile runs and was in her first marathon when she was 23 years old and ran in the Columbia Gorge Marathon. She has always enjoyed running, competing in cross county throughout her school days.
Riva was pulled to trail running when she realized it was less prone to injury than road running. She also prefers the solo aspect of trail running.
She considers it the perfect stress relief after a long day, running in the woods on the beautiful trails in the Columbia Gorge, or her neighborhood of Underwood.
Riva is employed as a White Salmon School District employee.
Riva said it will take her a few weeks of rest to recover from the ultra-race.
She will then begin preparing for another 100 miler on Sept. 18 called the Mountain Lakes 100 race that begins at Historic Clackamas Ranger Station, and around Olallie Lake in Oregon.