Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Lake of the Sky 50K

It’s been two weeks since I ran the Lake of the Sky 50K in Tahoe City, and I finally have a minute to sit down and reflect on the day. Our wet fall weather took a break for the weekend, and the morning dawned cold amidst the clearing clouds. I walked up Fairway Drive towards the start and breathed in the sunrise before me. The early light reflected off a glassy Tahoe, while pink clouds still hugged the surrounding mountains.

I arrived with just enough time to check in and toss my extra clothing in to my car. I decided to start out in tights, a long-sleeved shirt and gloves. I ran with my hydration pack, not so much for water capacity, but in order to have a place to stow my extra clothes that I would undoubtedly shed as the day progressed and warmed. I knew we would spend the early miles climbing, but I just didn’t feel like shivering through them. As it turned out, I kept the tights and long sleeves on for most of the day.

We gathered at the start and I noticed a few familiar faces, including Scott Dunlap sporting some brightly patterned sleeves (very stylish Scott!) and Bev Abbs. I made the rare choice to position myself near the front of the start, as I knew the course went immediately onto singletrack. Although I didn’t exactly plan to sprint up the hill, I still didn’t want to get caught in the inevitable bottleneck. I planned on running much of the initial grind, and knew that many folks would not. It worked out well, and as the true racers sprinted ahead I found myself with a line of runners who held a steady jog on all but the steepest and more technical stretches.

Familiarity with the first half of the course helped the miles fly by initially. In no time I was at the first aid station where Jack Driver and friends were keeping us well stocked with goodies.

The cold weather had brought a hard frost to the ground. I knew the rocky technical trail was a challenging one, but I had no idea how bad it could really be. Uneven rocks covered with an icy frost do not make for an enjoyable running surface. We were slipping and sliding all over the place! Walking turned out to be the safest choice for this stretch.

I soon found myself running alone, and plugged in my headphones to keep myself company. I rarely run with music, but I knew this was not going to be a fast day for me, and thought a little extra entertainment was in order. With that in mind, I had downloaded a podcast of my favorite NPR show, a hilarious news quiz called “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” to listen to on the run. The moment Peter Sagel’s voice welcomed me to the show, I knew it was a great idea. My only concern was the strange looks other runners were surely giving me as I shouted out the answers to the show’s questions, my responses ringing across the forest floor. Fortunately no one was around when, at several points, I found myself laughing so hard at the show I nearly had to stop running. For my next race I’m going to have to download 3 or 4 shows, because I was so bummed when that one was over. I had also downloaded a podcast of “This American Life,” but decided the chances of it making me cry were too great, so I didn’t listen to it. Crying and running do not go nearly as well together as laughing and running.

At the Watson Lake aid station there was quite a Thanksgiving feast available. I had no trouble putting away a slice of pumpkin pie (with whipped cream!) and it carried me easily to the last aid station before the turn around.

At this point I started to feel the miles, and I knew I would get slower throughout the rest of the day. The course climbed uphill as the halfway point approached, and I chose to walk most of it. I began to see the race leaders heading back the other direction and I was grateful for this indictor that the turnaround was not far.

I spent the remainder of the day simply enjoying the scenery and trying to forget about how slow I was going. To be honest, I don’t really like to go slow, so it was a good exercise in patience and letting go of any time goals. It seemed to take me about an hour between each aid station, regardless of how far apart they were. I snarfed another slice of pie at Watson Lake, and pulled out my camera to get some scenery photos now that the clouds had really cleared. Unfortunately my camera battery was dead, so that didn’t work out too well.

The technical downhill as I neared the finish line was as treacherous as I knew it would be. It would have been a joy to run down those last 4 miles if the trail had been soft dirt. Unfortunately my legs were weak and the rocks were vicious, so I picked my way slowly and carefully. At the finish, I noticed that all of the runners who had run fast times also sported bloody wounds on their knees and shins. Coincidence? I think not!

I crossed the line in 7:42, not quite my slowest 50K ever. As Peter Lubbers later pointed out though, it’s really a 33 mile course. Well, okay, I guess that makes it a little better. (Can you tell I didn’t do a good job of letting go of my concerns about time?)

After the race I indulged in an incredible buffet of home cooked food and met a few new folks, including Catherine and Peter. So great to meet you guys! I’ll be looking for you all, and more familiar faces, at Helen Klein next weekend.

A few days after the race, I went down to Orange County to visit family and was able to hook up with Jessica and the OCTR crew. We went for a great 6 miler in Peter’s Canyon. I felt great, and I definitely noticed the advantages of training at altitude, as those uphills at sea level felt almost easy. Thanks so much for putting the run together Jessica!


  1. Hi Gretchen,
    Nice post. It was nice to (finally) meet you as well. Sorry you were not able to go as fast as you wanted -- the TRT seems to have a mind of its own :)
    See you on Saturday at HK50.

  2. Nice work Gretchen! It's nice to get out faster to avoid the conga line of walkers. Looks like you got to enjoy the trails before the snows hit. Frosty rock and bloody knees? Are these new drinks you can get out at the clubs?

    I'm running a 50K down in Oregon next weekend. It's a 5 mile loop that produces a lot of PR's. I ran the 50 mile option last year. We expect rain, wind, and falling leaves. The race is called Autumn Leaves. I expect to have those tired legs you felt some point along the way since I've been slacking on my big miles for a while.

    Take care!

  3. Hey, nicely run!

    God, that course must be beautiful. Even better when you take it slow and really enjoy it :)

  4. You looked great! Good to see you out there enjoying the trail, although I bet you wish your dog could tag along.

    See ya at HK50!


  5. How great! Sounds like you had an excellent racing strategy and made a good call with the NPR :)

    Glad you had such a nice time down in OC as well. Peter's canyon is a fun place to run

    Good luck this weekend at HK50!

  6. Beautiful pictures! I too find it hard to not think about time, even when I say I won't. So you're not alone there!

  7. Wait! They have "Wait! Wait!" podcasts?! My life just got a lot happier, thanks! As usual, the pictures are absolutely beautiful. Your posts are so inspiring to get my butt into the kind of shape where I can run those things too. What's the halfway point between jealousy and amazement?