Monday, December 31, 2007

Reflections on a Year of Running

I wasn’t actually planning one of those typical “year in review” blog posts, until Scott Dunlap tagged me with the assignment. I guess I just needed the motivation! I ask my students to reflect on themselves as writers twice a year by reviewing all their writing pieces and assessing their strengths and weaknesses as writers. They whine a lot of course, but the process is invaluable in my eyes. Through reflection we see our own learning and progress take place, and can use that information to set appropriate goals. Given the value I place on reflection for my students, one might ask why I wasn’t planning such a post. What my students don’t understand is that I truly empathize with them. I understand the challenges of reflection and self-assessment.

Let me share a typical scene from my classroom for illustration.

Me: “After filling out the evaluation, please write me one page in which you discuss your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Please use specific examples from your own writing to support your opinions.”

Student: [whiny voice] "What? Why do we have to do this?"

Me: “So that you can figure out how to become a better writer, and think more about what you’re writing and why.”

Student: “But I don’t want to think!”

Me: [sighs in resignation] “I know. Just try.”

Fortunately, looking back at my year of running is much more fun (and far less depressing) than assessing my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Whew! So, without further ado…

1. Most memorable moment on the trails.

There are so many choices, but I spend a lot of time running with one of my dogs as my only companion, a crazy border collie named Cap, and those runs comprise most of my running memories from the year. My most memorable was a training run we did in June on the Tahoe Rim Trail. We had an epic day running 26 miles on the trail, essentially running the TRT 50K course, minus the Red House Loop. I planned to carry everything I needed for the day, and set out with a hydration pack filled with food and water and two handheld bottles. I felt like a fully loaded mule, while Cap bounced around my legs like a jack rabbit on speed. (Note to self: look into doggie backpacks for Cap.) Although only June, I knew there would be very little left in the way of natural water sources, so I would also be sharing my supplies with Cap.

We had an incredible day and saw almost no one else on the trail. Although it wasn’t too hot, it is bone dry at 8000 feet, and I was careful to conserve our water usage. Nonetheless, with 6 miles to go, we ran out of water. It doesn’t sound too bad, but since I had been sparing with the water all day, I was already quite dehydrated. I never thought 6 miles of downhill would feel so hard. It was a good lesson, and it was also one of those days where “toughing it out” was good mental training. Upon returning to the car we both inhaled a few quarts of water, then jumped into Lake Tahoe for an exhilarating reward and ice-down.

I remember floating in the clear water of the lake, utterly refreshed, gazing up at the surrounding mountains where Cap and I had just spent the day, and laughing in joy at our brilliant adventure. Although physically drained, I never felt stronger and more alive.

For a "most memorable race" I would have to give the nod to the Cool 12 Hour Night Run. Howling cyotes, shooting stars, running in the pitch dark when my flashlight burned out, a close encounter with a skunk, and a billy goat in a tree! Whoever said the Olmstead Loop was boring??

2. Best new trail discovered in 2007.

This is a tough question. Although I spent time on a lot of different trails this summer, very few of them were new to me. For a brand new trail, my favorite was Discovery Park in Seattle. It’s an incredible little slice of wilderness in the middle of the city.

Closer to home, I would say the Hole in the Ground Trail. Although this trail isn’t exactly new to me, (I have mountain biked it a few times) this year was the first time I did any trail running on it. It’s a popular trail for mountain bikers due to its scenic beauty and technical difficulty. This meant that bringing Cap required a lot of time with him on the leash. He wasn’t quite 2 years old for our first run on this trail, and it was the beginning of his serious training as a running partner.

The best features of this trail: high altitude (it’s near the Sierra crest) technical running, breathtaking scenery, and a perfect lake for swimming right at the halfway point.

3. My best performance of 2007.

The Way Too Cool 50K. If you don’t like crowds on a trail that is mostly singletrack, then this race may not be for you. Otherwise, I can’t recommend it highly enough. A combination of solid early season training in preparation for the Death Valley Trail Marathon, and an accidental 2 week taper led me to a strong performance of 5:26. Although you can’t really compare this course to the TRT course, (my previous PR) I took pleasure in the fact that it was a PR by an hour and 20 minutes. Much of this course is graced with long smooth “barely downhill" downhills with great footing. There are only two climbs, and they are both short and steep. I think my keys to a good performance were maintaining a solid pace hiking the two uphills, and letting fly on the long easy downhills.

4. I don’t know how I previously survived without...

My dog Cap as my running partner. Have I talked about him enough yet? Every girl needs a good training partner, and sharing an adventure is always more fun than going alone.

5. The person I would most like to meet on the trails in 2008.

My response to this question is non-specific. My favorite part about ultra running this year was all the wonderful people I met, and my goal is to do the same next year. At Sliver State I met Olga and Scott for the first time. At TRT I met Jessica and Addy. During that race I met and ran with Tate, probably the most significant encounter since we spent about 45 miles together that day. Never underestimate the rarity of finding someone with whom you are compatible both as a runner and as a friend! At Lake of the Sky I met Peter and Catherine, and at Helen Klein Catherine and I got to run together for several miles. There were innumerable others whom I met during races as we briefly shared a few miles of trail, not to mention race directors like Nancy Warren, Norm and Helen Klein, and Robert and Linda Mathis.

Community is an important part of ultra running, and one of the things that will keep me coming back to races (and keep me blogging!) So, I would most like to meet all the people I have not yet met!

6. The race I am most excited about for 2008.

TRT 100, I guess. (Do I sound excited?) I’m still tossing around races for next year, and the excitement won’t really kick in until I have my calendar established and my training begun. Still, this is definitely the right course for my first 100. I feel intimate with that trail, and I love the course.
Hey Tate, are you reading this? Do you want to run TRT 100 with me?

The only person I am tagging on this game is Catherine. This partly because all the other blogs I read have already made a post similar to this, and also because today is the last day of 2007, so it's getting a bit late for this sort of thing. (I am the biggest procastinator I know.)

See you all in 2008!


  1. Great reflection :) It was great getting to meet you this year! Unfortunately I think I won't do TRT this year, despite my previous plans, as it falls during the last week of my school program, so I don't think it'll be a good time to take off into the mountains. I'll be excited to follow along in your 100 miler training if you commit to it though! Hope you have a wonderful year ahead of you :)

  2. I'm looking forward to following your 100 training. Wishing you a great year ahead!

  3. very cool. and I'm planning on being at Tahoe again this year too. yay!

  4. Gretchen,

    Congratulations on a great 2007 season. Many have mentioned 12 Hours at Cool as one of their favorite races of the year, and I agree, although I missed the billy goat. Perhaps next year... Best of luck at TRT!


  5. It sounds like such a great year, and seeing it all together in one post just makes me admire you more. My new year's resolution: Be more like Gretchen.

  6. I heard about all the flooding that's happening in Truckee right now. I hope that everything's alright in your neck of the woods and that you and yours are safe.


  7. Great summary! Glad you and Cap survived in June. TRT 100 sounds like a great anchor race.

    I think I need to go back to school and take your class, since I procrastinate & turn in my homework late, and don't answer the questions as succinctly.

    By the way, have you enjoyed the snow, or is it still coming down too hard?

  8. I sure could appreciate a good dog partner as I wander in the dark hours in the park least I get to use Mike twice a week instead:)
    Nice review, hear is to another year! I think you had so much improvement in 2007, and so much fun, prepare it to get only much better!

  9. Nice summary (including your previous post). It was great to meet you in '07 and I look forward to meet you on the trails again in 08. Good luck with TRT100 -- you'll be fine!

  10. Gretchen,
    I love the pictures of Cap - especially in the snow! Very cool that you two get to enjoy your favorite activity together; Sascha & I can relate.

    Hey, that's my friend Tate (and also one of Sascha's dogsitters). After the race, I remember her talking about running most of it with some girl - now I know who some girl is. I don't know if she's planning on the TRT 100 or not.

    I hope you and Cap continue to enjoy the plethora of snow in your area. Sascha is jealous.

  11. Nice recap for the year. Your dog looks very happy!

    If I was going to move anywhere in the US Truckee would be in my top 3 places. You have great running trails and great snow for XC-Skiing. Michelle and I have been spoiled by our friends cabin on Lake Donner. I suppose some places should be reserved for "vacation time only".

    Next time we head over your direction we need to meet up for a coffee or something. I'm thinking about Lake Tahoe Marathon this year. I'll let you know if we cast that in stone.


  12. Hi Gretchen-

    just catching up with your blog-
    you had an amazing year.

    TRT 100? That is so great. Go for it.

    Will you be running AR50, too?

  13. Hi Gretchen!

    Just stopping by for the first time. We have lots in common being mountain girrrrrls. My dog is now a retired athlete at age 15 but when he sleeps he twitches all over and I know he is running fast and furious in his dreams!!

  14. Hi Gretchen:
    Are you hibernating :)
    How is the training for TRT100 going?

  15. Peter, Dude, it's so funny that we both decided to check on Gretchen at almost the same time (I clicked her link from yours). I think she might be hibernating. Or running with Cap.

  16. Gretchen, You have not posted a daily adventure in a while is your life becoming *gasp* less adventerous