I packed up the dog and a long weekend's worth of supplies and started driving towards South Lake Tahoe around 4 a.m. on the morning of the 15th. This is the part I will skip next time. A plane ticket and a couple of bags in exchange for 32 hours in a hot, cramped 20 year old Toyota pickup with 282K miles on it. I suppose I could look on the bright side and say that I did a crash course in heat acclimation by driving on the freshly blacktopped asphalt of I-80 in 103F degree heat. Then, did some sleep deprivation training on the drive back by leaving at 7 p.m. and driving through the night to get home. Apparently, ultrarunning and family are labors of love. :)
The race was amazing. Jay dropped me off at the satellite parking for Spooner Lake State Park and I chose to run the half mile down to the start as a warm up rather than take the shuttle. I already felt light and nimble and ready to run. A crowd of around 400, that consisted of both 50K and 50 mile runners, amassed at the starting line a few minutes before the 6 a.m. start. The 100 mile racers had left the start an hour prior. After picking up my race number, I spent a few minutes snapping photos of the runners. The Race Director went over some pre-race info (like only doing the Red House Loop ONCE and avoid the mountain lions and bears that are known to visit the Rim Trail.) I jockeyed for a spot near the front a minute before the start, eager to run the best race I could. I think I heard someone say "Go!" and we were off.
The temperatures were coolish at the start of the race but everyone knew it would warm up to near record temps as the day progressed. I heard someone say that it was 20 degrees warmer this year than last. The first part of the race would be a 6 mile climb up to Hobart Aid Station, from Spooner Lake at 7000' up to 8500'. Without trying to go out too fast, I was able to work my way up into what I felt was the first 20 or so runners in the first miles as the trail meandered and slowly climbed a forested hillside. We started out on a double track road, but after a couple hundred yards we jumped onto a single track and the runners spread out into groups of people running at similar pace. Still not trying to run too fast, I found myself slowly working my way past runners for the first 3 or 4 miles.
The climb was fairly gradual over the entire distance with a couple of flat sections. The early trail was in the trees the entire time, the surface kind of a mix of sandy and rocky with some soft dirt sections, as well. Once, I arrived at Hobart, I decided to pass the first aid station without stopping since I still had a full water bottle and a half (I was carrying two)and had eaten one Honey Stinger gel.
The next leg was a longish traverse and climb (with a tiny section of snow) and then descent down to the Tunnel Creek Aid Station.
By now, I felt really warmed up and ended up chasing a really strong runner down a multitude of switchbacks in the forest. This 2 or so mile long downhill was one of the most fun parts of the race for me. The other runner kept a fast pace and I didn't have any trouble staying with him and no one was gaining ground on us. Towards the end, I backed off a little bit to save some for later in the race, as the other guy pressed on ahead. I coasted into Tunnel Creek feeling good and pumped for the next section, the infamous Red House Loop.
At the aid station, I had both of my water bottles filled with ice water and grabbed a handful of fruit and nuts to eat. I lingered just a moment and then started a climb out from Tunnel Creek. I think I ate my second gel about this time but don't really remember when. I brought 5 and ate one about every hour. I hiked alot of this section because it was pretty steep.
I think we were about 12 miles into the race by now so I knew I shouldn't try to run any uphills at this point. Too early. After the climb was a gnarly steep downhill. I figured this would go on for a while because of the reputation of the loop. About this time, I started seeing 100 mile race runners coming up from the Red House. A few were still rather upbeat but there were a couple who were really not liking that climb out. I had to slow myself down for some of the descent because it was so steep but I still made great time down to the bottom and the turnaround water station.
I only lingered for a second and started out of there quickly. The climb out wasn't that bad for a little while and I caught the guy I had chased down to Tunnel Creek and we both mostly ran this section. I liked his pace so I was happy to just hang behind him for a while. We passed a bunch more 100 mile racers and I tried to encourage all of them to have a great day (and night!) when we passed. Once we hit the steep part of the climb, I switched to hiking and started passing everybody I encountered all the way back up to Tunnel Creek. I was surprised how well I was climbing but it seemed like all my mountain running at home was really paying off. At Tunnel Creek, I took a few pictures, got some cold water and a few things to eat and took off again.
The next section was going back up the hill I had chased down earlier. The race started getting really tough in this section. Here was another big climb and the temps were starting to crank. I kept pounding water and steadily hiked everything steep. I eventually caught up to a cool guy named Mike from Phoenix, AZ. We started talking and it helped me take my mind off how my hamstrings were starting to hurt from the uphills. Turns out he is a fairly experienced ultrarunner and went to CU-Boulder. I was grateful for his company on the climb. As we crested the hill, we were treated to another great vista of Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe and we saw a couple mountain bikers who had stopped to take in the view, too. I almost ran on but when I saw Mike stop and ask for them to take his picture, I had to do the same. It was a beautiful spot. Shortly thereafter, the two of us hit Hobart.
At the aid station, I spent a couple minutes talking away with the volunteers. Man, they really made the race. All the people are so nice and helpful. Filling water bottles and getting you food and salt tablets or whatever. Giving you info on the course. So helpful. They even had a bar set up at this aid station and assured me I could have a shot of Jameson, if I wanted one. (I declined but apparently a couple of 100 milers didn't earlier in the day. I can't imagine.) I was curious what place I might be in because I kind of felt like I was doing pretty good. One of the volunteers said I might be in the top 10. "Really?! I better get going!" I was so surprised. Based on my goal time of 6 hours, I thought I might be doing pretty well but this was still a shock. I left the aid station and headed out noticing that Mike had already left maybe a minute or so earlier. I took off down the sandy trail and passed a group of kids walking to the aid station who told me I was in 12th. "Cool!" I thought.
The next few miles were a gradual climb up to Snow Valley Peak and the aid station there. Mike got away from me on this leg and I was content to run alone for awhile. While in the woods, I got passed by another runner as I stopped to take a picture of some really cool moss growing on a dead tree. It was a luminous green color and it just stopped me in my tracks. So cool looking. When we climbed out of the forest, I could see him every once in a while, only about an eighth or a quarter mile ahead of me. I just plugged along, put a little more snow in my hat and stuck to my steady uphill pace. As I ran down to the aid station, I could hear the volunteers cheering for me by name. I thought this was so cool. When I ran into the aid station I said, "I didn't realize I had so many friends here!" I had my water bottles filled with ice water and grabbed a quick orange slice and darted out for the next 5.5 mile downhill. At the aid station, I had managed to catch up to Mike and the other guy but I also saw a woman who had snuck up behind me. It didn't matter, the next leg would be my best running all day.
From Snow Valley Peak, the single track trail does a nice gradual, traversing downhill for about a mile or so before heading down into the woods. I was feeling so rejuvenated I just took off at about a 5:30 to 6:00/mile pace. I flew past Mike and caught the other runner in front of him about a minute later. Now, I was feeling really jazzed and kept a steady fast pace down the trail. I could see myself gaining on one more runner about an eighth of a mile down the trail and within 3 minutes I caught him and passed. I could hear him struggling a bit with the downhill and knew he wouldn't try to chase me. Once I hit the treeline, I just maintained my pace. The problem with my strategy was that when I left Snow Valley Peak, I didn't know how far it was to the finish or the next aid station. All I knew is that it was all downhill from here. I was gambling a bit but betting on myself. I looked at my GPS watch and saw my run time was 5:40. I decided to run the fastest pace I could maintain for the next 20 minutes and see where I was, hoping beyond hope that it was at the finish line.
I had the time of my life running down this trail, feeling good. I passed a couple groups of day hikers that were hiking up the trail and most of them cheered me on. A few looked puzzled. It was a great boost because I was starting to fade. I ate my last gel, kept pounding water or dumping it on me to stay cool and just hammered every step I could. At 5:58, I hit the final aid station, just a water stop, at Spooner Summit. I had my water bottles filled again and asked when the last runner came through. "The first woman left about 5 minutes ago." Rats. Wouldn't catch her. How far to the finish? 1.7 miles. "Oh, I got this!" I said as I ran off.
The last section was relatively flat as it worked it's way around Spooner Lake. The trail was heavily treed, so it was nice and shady but I couldn't see or hear the finish and I was SO ready to stop running. Still, I ran a steady pace and really felt like all my long runs this year (especially the day long outings with Katy) had really prepared my legs to keep running even after 6 hours. I was stoked. Finally, I turned the final corner and just burst into a near sprint. I could hear my sister yelling and saw her and my niece and I felt like a million bucks. I waved at them and crossed the finish line. Then, I sat down. Damn, that felt good.
A couple of other runners were still sitting at the finish and confirmed that I had finished 10th. I still couldn't believe it. I just walked around, stunned for a couple minutes, trying to soak in the whole experience. Checking the results online after getting home, I found out my official time was 6:11:13. I also found out that I had been racing against some pretty seasoned ultrarunners, including Tim Tweitmeyer (former record holder for the ENTIRE 165-MILE TAHOE RIM TRAIL), who finished 4th, about half an hour ahead of me.
I am really happy (obviously) by how the race played out. I think I can attribute my good run to several factors: 1. Several good long, slow runs after an early season of gradually rebuilding my mileage 2. Lots of hill work on my shorter runs and pushing it on those up and down hills 3. Resting when I needed to 4. Eating lots of nutritious, natural food and cutting back on sugar 5. Good lovin'!
This coming weekend, I really get to have some fun and run fast. I'm doing the Spring Creek Memorial 9 miler here in beautiful Steamboat Springs. It's my first time doing a race in the running series and I'm looking forward to it. Gotta represent at home!