Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Burton Creek Trail Run

Sunday was the inaugural Burton Creek Trail Run in Tahoe City. Put on by Big Blue Adventures, the event offered both 10 and 20 mile distances through the Burton Creek State Park. In spite of recent smoke and heat, it turned out to be a beautiful day and I was delighted to discover this network of trails so close to home!

With a 9:00 start and a short drive, I didn’t even need to get up early for this one. The 10 mile course followed single track and dirt roads through Burton Creek State Park, much of which is also used as the Tahoe XC Ski center in the winter. The 20 mile race did 2 loops on the same course. I have skied The Great Race, which shares a starting line with this run, so I was eager to check out the area in summer.

There were about 50 starters, but there was no way to know who was running which race. The race director gave a brief course description, which consisted mostly of “follow the markers.” Personally I prefer these kinds of descriptions, since I just get confused by detailed explanations of a trail I’m not familiar with, and they lead to the assumption that the course is well marked. He also acknowledged the handful of runners present who had intended to run Western States, and thanked them for coming to our event.

With that, we were off! There were 3 aid stations on the course, plus the start/finish area for the 20 mile runners, so I just carried one bottle. We began with a very slight climb that was familiar from The Great Race, and the faster runners got in front quickly. I recognized Peter Fain, and assumed he would win the 20 mile race, but no one else really looked familiar.

I was having a hard time deciding what kind of pace was appropriate for 20 miles, when 2 women slowly passed me by. Even from the back they were clearly twins, sporting the same tall athletic build and comfortable stride. The only difference was that one let her long blond hair swing free in the ponytail, and the other kept it in a thick braid. They looked like they would make a wicked two-person beach volleyball team! I thought they must be on their way to a fast time, so I decided to go along for the ride and fell in behind them.

I was surprised at the great single track through the park, and I was already planning my next run here. I realized though, that without a map (or course markings!) I would have no way to negotiate these trails on my own. I figured it would have to be one of those places that involved learning the trail system through trial and error, which could make for some fun adventures.

The trail was mostly shaded, which was helpful since the day was already warming up. I was lamenting the laziness that had caused me to leave my camera at home, because the lupine was in full bloom, and mixed with the other wildflowers, it was spectacular. The scent was intoxicating, and I wafted along on it, trying to keep up with the twins, who had a killer downhill stride.

All of the aid stations were self-serve, but that was fine since I didn’t actually stop at many of them. They had water and GU only. At the halfway point, there was a race official there to mark our bib, proving that we had really come through this part of the course. I thought this was kind of funny, but I guess Big Blue puts on a lot of bigger events with competitive fields and good prizes, so it makes some sense. I can’t imagine anyone cheating in a trail run though!

The course was beautiful, but the lack of hills didn’t really play to my strengths. Although I appreciated that the downhills were mellow, the one hill climb wasn’t steep enough to justify walking. (Not even the second time!)

I was nearing the end of the first lap and the volleyball twins were starting to pull away. I appreciated their pacing, but they were running the ten mile race and looked like they were heading in for a strong finish. I reminded myself that I still had ten more miles and let them go.

My first split was just under 1:30, which I worried was a little fast. I filled up my bottle and headed out on the course. It was much lonelier without the twins, and the day was heating up. This lap was basically a blur in which I did not see a single other runner. It turns out that there were 38 runners in the 10 mile race, while only 16 had entered the 20 miler.

As I neared the finish line I was happy to see that my time would not be far off 3 hours, which meant my splits were fairly even. I was the first women in the 20 mile race (7th overall) with a time of 3:05. Mostly I was just happy that I hadn’t slowed down more on the second lap, but I also won a pair of Merrell shoes for my effort, as well as custom footbeds in the raffle.

In the men’s 20 mile race, thwarted Western States runners took top honors, with Benoit Laval from France winning in 2:16, and Hiroki Ishikawa from Japan taking second in 2:28. For the 10 mile race, Peter Fain of Truckee won in a time of 1:06, and Sarah Raitter took it for the women in 1:15. Complete results can be found here.

The event was put on well by Big Blue Adventures, and I hope they keep this one on their list of events. I also hope the field size increases. Thanks to everyone who worked on theis event!

For me, it capped off a strong week of high quality and high mileage running. It was kind of a rough week training through the smoke, but miraculously most of my miles were on fairly clear days. This week I’ll cut back on mileage, while keeping the quality. After that…it’s taper time!


  1. Congrats on the 1st womans finish! Sounds like it was a beautiful race. It's so fun when races show you new trails to play on :)

    It's exciting that it's almost time for you to start tapering!

  2. congrats on your 1st place. it is cool when you find fun new places to run close to home...and sleeping to boot!

  3. Holy cow! I couldn't even dream of running splits like that on a flat road race. You are such a gun, Gretchen!

    Congratulations on your win, and I'm glad you managed to stay on course this time! :) I wish you'd remembered the camera. It sounds beautiful!

  4. Congratulations on your first place finish! You obviously did a great job pacing yourself, especially on the second loop when it started to heat up.

  5. The big W...congrats, Gretchen! Good sign of things to come. See you soon.